Export, farm labor bills top list of new laws affecting ag
By Caleb Hampton
Several new California laws, which went into effect New Year’s Day, impact farm operations and agricultural production in the state. The new policies relate to a range of issues, including agricultural exports, pest control, water and irrigation, agricultural vehicles, labor unions and more.
As of Jan. 1, thanks to Assembly Bill 2406, international ocean carriers may no longer impose onerous fees, such as unfair cargo detention and demurrage charges, on agricultural exporters at overcrowded California ports.
In a letter supporting the law, agriculture and trucking industries said port fees are normally designed to encourage the efficient use of containers. But during the port congestion crisis, they wrote, “late charges have been imposed on California businesses by international ocean carriers even when containers cannot be returned due to circumstances not within the control of the importer, exporter or trucker.”
According to the groups, ocean carriers at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports were charging fees as high as 10 times those imposed at other major ports, with the fees ultimately increasing the price of goods and services for Californians.
Meanwhile, the New Year begins with a new law that stands to dramatically change how labor unions can become certified to represent agricultural employees for collective bargaining purposes.
AB 2183, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September, was strongly opposed by the California Farm Bureau and other agricultural groups, which argued that the bill was a recipe for union intimidation of farm employees. It will allow collection of signed ballot or authorization cards in lieu of holding traditional secret ballot elections.
The governor initially expressed misgivings about the bill. He signed it into law after pressure from United Farm Workers and top Democrats in Washington, including President Joe Biden.
Newson also reached a supplemental agreement, subject to approval in this year’s legislation session. It would eliminate language in AB 2183 on voting by mail and instead allow the union organizing system known as “card-check.”
Under another new law, Senate Bill 856, farmers and ranchers now face fewer barriers to controlling the state’s wild pig population. There are an estimated 400,000 wild pigs, which do extensive damage to farm and ranch properties, spread across 56 of California’s 58 counties.
The new law, which went into effect Jan. 1, removes limits on the number of wild pigs that can be taken under depredation permits and allows use of artificial lights to hunt the nocturnal animals at night. The law also prohibits people from intentionally releasing pigs into the wild.
Several new laws were passed relating to water and irrigation.
Under AB 1164, irrigation districts can now construct and maintain water storage and deliver irrigation supplies under the same rules as private entities, which had faced fewer regulations.
SB 1378 prohibits the Department of Water Resources from using the approval of a groundwater sustainability plan to determine the allocation of pumping rights.
Meanwhile, SB 880 extends the rights of agricultural irrigators that divert more than 100 acre-feet of water per year to take their own water-use measurements, provided they take a course through the University of California Cooperative Extension.
SB 489 fast-tracks for approval the Pajaro River Flood Risk Management Project, a $400 million effort to reduce flood risk from the lower Pajaro River and the Corralitos and Salsipuedes Creeks.
Other new laws impact vehicles and transportation.
Assembly Bill 2415 extends exemptions for agricultural vehicles from the California Highway Patrol’s Basic Inspection of Terminals program through Jan. 1, 2026.
Assembly Bill 2836 provides funding to reduce pollution and extends incentives to private businesses and public agencies to voluntarily clean up older vehicles and mobile off-road engines by retrofitting or replacing them.
(Caleb Hampton is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at email@example.com.)